8, 2003: American League Divisional Series
Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium
Theory Shot to Hell
much for the theory about the Yankees being well-rested compared to the haggard
Red Sox entering the American League Championship Series. Yankee starter Mike
Mussina looked more rusted than rested from seven days off, and the Yank bats
were baffled by Sox starter Tim Wakefield's knuckler as Boston took the
first game of this highly anticipated series, 5-2.
Just as last
week against the Minnesota Twins, the game-time temperature was unseasonably
warm 67 degrees. But there was no mistaking this for anything but an October
affair, not with the bombastic pregame ceremonies which included Mr. October himself,
Reggie Jackson, throwing out the first pitch, a
very confused bald eagle and an ear-splitting F-14 flyover. Not with 56,281
feverish fans who cheered and booed every pitch. The crowds are louder, the grass
is greener, the lights are brighter on October nights in the Yankee Stadium.
A surprisingly large contingent of those 56,281 fans were wearing Boston colors.
Once upon a time, doing so in da Bronx was an invitation for trouble ("Hey pal,
I'm gonna show you a new way to wear that hat!"), but the sucesss of the Torre
dynasty and its record attendance levels have brought in a more civil and
occasionally bipartisan clientele. My brother and I, sittting in seats
19 and 18 in our row (hehehe), had to endure the barbs of four female Boston
fans directly behind us, otherwise clueless twentysomethings who kept calling
Nomar and Manny "big boy," as in "Come on, big boy, let's do it!" Every
time one of those Boston stars came to bat, I thought I'd stumbled upon
some Beantown version of
Wakefield was virtually unhittable, allowing only two second-inning singles through
the first six innings and retiring 14 straight batters as his knuckler danced.
Since his last start, the Boston pitcher reportedly had gone back to basics for
the mechanics on his money pitch, making sure to lock his wrist during delivery.
The results paid off big time. The Yanks took impatient at-bats against Wakefield,
with Derek Jeter's evening typify things. In three trips to the plate against
the knuckleballer, Jeter saw exactly four pitches, producing two infield popups
and a soft liner to third.
In conrast to Wakefield, Mussina continually courted disaster. After a sharp 1-2-3
first inning, he began missing high in the strike zone, throwing 14 balls in a
17-pitch span (pitching from the stretch move I call "the goddamn drinking bird")
and walking David Ortiz and Trot Nixon in the second. He wriggled free, but not
before expending 24 pitches in doing so. By the end of the third, he'd thrown
He found real trouble in the fourth. It began innocently enough, with a Manny
Ramirez chopper to the first-base side of the mound. With his follow-through carrying
him the other way, Moose could only swat the ball with his glove towards Nick
Johnson at first, feebly at that. Next up was David Ortiz, 0-for-21 lifetime against
Mussina. Moose got ahead 0-2, but Ortiz waited him out until the count was full.
Up to that point, Mussina had gone to two strikes on eight of the thirteen batters
he'd faced without recording a single strikeout. He couldn't finish Ortiz off
either. The big lefty slugger creamed a low-and-away fastball into the rightfield
upper deck for a two-run homer.
Mussina continued to have trouble keeping the ball in the park during the fifth.
Todd Walker led off with a shot that appeared to hit the rightfield foul pole.
The rightfield umpire initially called the ball foul, but he was overruled by
home plate ump Tim McClelland. Replays showed that the ball actually struck the
glove of some wannabe Jeffery Maier, and apparently Fox made a big deal of the
replay. But it looked pretty clearly as though the ball would have hit the pole
anyway, making it a fair ball and thus a home run. Three batters later, Manny
got into the act with his own shot to right, stretching the lead to 4-0.
Moose didn't even make it out of the sixth. Singles by Kevin Millar and Doug Mirabelli
put two men aboard, and with two outs, Joe Torre called for lefty Felix Heredia
to face Walker, who struggles with southpaws (a .655 OPS). Heredia got Walker
to end the inning, but the Yankee bullpen faltered in the top of the seventh.
With one out, Jeff Nelson came on in relief, and though he got Nomar Garciaparra
to ground out meekly to catcher, the results thereafter weren't pretty. Manny
singled, then Nellie hit Ortiz in the foot. A Millar single drove in Ramirez,
by which time Torre had seen enough to call upon Gabe White. Trot Nixon greeted
White with another single, but the lefty escaped the inning on a fielder's choice.
As it did with Minnesota
pitcher Brad Radke, the seventh inning stretch, with Ronan Tynan and the looooooong
version of "God Bless America," appeared to rattle Wakefield. He came into the
inning on a roll, having retired 14 straight and given the Yankee crowd almost
nothing to cheer about since the opening ceremonies. But he walked Jason Giambi
to lead off the seventh, then walked Bernie Williams as well. Sox manager Grady
Little gave Wakefield a quick hook, bringing in lefty Alan Embree.
Jorge Posada smoked Embree's second pitch into the right centerfield gap for an
RBI double, with Williams holding at third as the Yankee crowd erupted. At this
point the ignorance of the Sox fans behind me revealed itself. These gals had
already become the butt of jokes in our section. The four of them had disappeared
during the sixth inning on a beer run, but they'd left behind nearly full beers,
into which a pair of ten-year-olds, at the distinct lack of discouragement by
their guardian, had put peanut shells and nasty loogies. No matter; the gals came
back double-fisting Bud Lights. After Posada's hit, the loudest of the women shouted
out, "C'mon guys, all we need is one more run!" before her friend turned to her
and reminded her that the Sox were in the field. Oops. So then the same woman
shouted, "Let's go Wakefield!" despite the fact that the knuckler's night had
just ended. Hmmmm, you ever watch baseball?
I hadn't engaged these women (not ladies) in any sort of taunting, but by this
point I'd been nurturing a couple of good'n'filthy comeback lines certainly
no worse than theirs waiting for the right moment. I turned around and
prepared to deliver my bon mots, but as I did so, I caught the eye of the one
directly behind me, an angelic blue-eyed blonde who hadn't uttered a peep all
evening. We made eye contact and she smiled, at which I thought to myself that
whatever vile spew I was about to unleash, she had done absolutely nothing to
deserve hearing it. Looking at her, I exhaled and shook my head, deciding to just
put a sock in it for the evening.
Hideki Matsui faced Embree with none out and two runners in scoring position.
He got ahead in the count 2-0, but on the next pitch, he lofted a fly ball to
left field deep enough to score the run, but a bringdown nonetheless. The
Yanks could do nothing to bring Posada home after that.
That was it for the scoring. White held down the Sox before giving way to Jose
Contreras, who impressed by striking out the side in the ninth except for a Ramirez
single, his fourth hit on the night. The Yanks mounted no challenge to either
Mike Timlin or Scott Williamson, and just like that, Boston had overcome all predictions
about their fatigue to jump out to a 1-0 lead in the ALCS.
Red Sox 5, Yanks 2. Three commemorative programs, three beers, two hot
dogs, half a dozen "1918" chants, several hundred obscenites, and one
big white paging phone for the Curse of the Bambino.